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Posted: 2/7/2002 11:59:44 AM EDT
[Last Edit: 2/7/2002 12:04:09 PM EDT by EdAvilaSr]
The rest of the country discovers patriotism and a respect for the Special Forces. [url]http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=676&u=/usatoday/20020206/ts_usatoday/3831693[/url] [blue]Edited to make url active [/blue] KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- Amid the dust and smell of jet fuel at the captured airport here, they don't have a clue that half a world away they are fast becoming media stars. The Army and Navy commandos who America has come to know simply as elite forces have no TV news at this combat base, no newspapers and little Internet access -- no way to gauge box office. ''We're sort of isolated media-wise. It's hard to say what the public thinks,'' says one young petty officer, a Navy SEAL, looking cool and detached in his Taliban chic. The black turban wrapped around his head and AK-47 bandoleer across his chest are war booty. They were liberated from an al-Qaeda cave last month -- part of the vast Zawar Kili complex in eastern Afghanistan that produced a windfall of intelligence. And a puppy. But more on that later. What firefighters were for a hero-hungry USA after the fall of the twin towers, special operations forces have become after the fall of the Taliban. The mystique has only grown with the release last month of the film, Black Hawk Down. The graphic story of an ill-fated elite forces mission in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1993 that left 18 soldiers dead has been the top grossing movie in the nation for three weekends in a row. ''They were allowed a degree of personal freedom and initiative unheard of in the military, particularly in battle,'' author Mark Bowden wrote of the elite forces in the best-selling book upon which the movie is based. ''The price they paid for this, of course, was that they lived with danger and were expected to do what normal soldiers could not.'' The nation's long-distance romance with these elite troops began with news reports of their battlefield success using proxy Afghan fighters and U.S. air support to rout Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. It grew as Americans caught glimpses of them in the news media looking decidedly unmilitary and mysterious in their beards and Ray-Ban sunglasses. One photo released early in the war by the Pentagon had them on horseback charging glamorously into battle. ''That's our job,'' the petty officer says in a discussion of SEAL tactics, ''to be unconventional.'' The elite forces exist in virtual anonymity here. They insist on no names and, in large part, no interviews. On a recent afternoon here, two members of the Navy SEAL (SEA, Air, Land) elite forces -- the young petty officer and his platoon lieutenant -- sat down to talk about their missions, motivation and the pleasure of striking back after Sept. 11. The kind of operations they carry out -- calling in airstrikes, rifling caves for intelligence and direct-action missions, today's parlance for what used to be known as firefights -- are what the lieutenant calls being ''at the very edge of the fight.'' In this war on terrorism, more than any other conflict in the past, special operations forces have taken the lead in ground combat, says the lieutenant, a native of York, Maine. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., he is married and the father of three small children -- two girls and a boy back in San Diego, where the West Coast SEALs are based.
Link Posted: 2/7/2002 12:00:48 PM EDT
Both men are a bit stiff at first, if polite. News media interviews are a rare thing. ''All Americans wish they could do something about it (Sept. 11),'' the enlisted man says. ''We just happen to be in a position where we can do something directly about it.'' He was attending high school in Petoskey, Mich., nine years ago when he saw televised images of the bodies of U.S. servicemen being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. ''That's when I really decided that I wanted to go into special forces,'' he says. Both men survived the difficult six-month BUD/S (basic underwater demolition, SEAL) training, a program from which 70%-75% of those who sign up wash out or are injured. Nevertheless, they are like any other G.I. or Marine in the combat zone here. They want chocolate chip cookies in the care package from home. They wait in line for the one satellite-phone call a week to the family. This afternoon is an uncommon chance to relax between the tedium of mission preparation and the mission itself. ''We're expected to think outside the box,'' says the petty officer, who sits on a crate in the airport dirt, ''to make things work even when they're not supposed to work.'' They have endured hours on the hard Afghan plain, soaked in sweat, freezing in the winter cold, awaiting extraction by helicopter after some of their missions. They take pride in an ability to focus completely on each operation. ''The most fired-up, the most in-the-zone feeling I have on the whole mission is in the pitch dark helicopter,'' the lieutenant says. ''Somebody screaming 'Thirty seconds.' And the helicopter landing. Everybody getting off.'' They prefer, above all other assignments, the so-called direct-action missions, in which actual combat and gunfire are likely, the ones where somebody could get killed. ''It's not going to be us, though,'' the lieutenant puts in. After the infamous Tora Bora region in eastern Afghanistan was largely cleared of al-Qaeda forces in December, the U.S. military turned its attention to a suspected network of caves south of there called Zawar Kili. This SEAL platoon -- its two officers and 14 enlisted men armed with M-4 rifles -- was sent in with some Air Force combat air controllers for what was expected to be a 12-hour mission locating the caves. It turned into nine days on the ground, living off the land, slaughtering cows and chickens left behind by al-Qaeda fighters and purifying water as they uncovered a network of 70 caves and about 60 structures within a 3-mile-by-3-mile area. Most had been abandoned, though eight prisoners were taken along with countless intelligence documents. Enormous caches of weapons and munitions also were found. ''We saw . . . unbelievable cave complexes,'' the lieutenant says. ''It was mind-boggling how far they go into the mountains.'' There were fully equipped underground hospitals and vehicle-storage areas, the petty officer says.
Link Posted: 2/7/2002 12:01:44 PM EDT
In Washington, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said the treasure trove of documents, videotapes and computer discs is helping assemble ''a multi-dimensional puzzle, and the more pieces we get, the more it begins to reveal a story of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, its capabilities, its reach.'' After the search was completed, airstrikes were called in to destroy the weapons and close those caves. But not before the troops found the dog. ''The house we got him out of had a bin Laden poster in it. He was tied up in there,'' the lieutenant says. ''Knowing that we were going to bomb the area, we released him. We thought he'd run off, but he kept following us the whole day, even though we had to hump up and down mountains.'' As they neared the helicopter landing zone, the mongrel pup all but collapsed struggling to keep up with the commandos. The young petty officer carried him the last few hundred yards onto the chopper for the trip back to Kandahar. The dog is still with them. They named him JayDAM after the JDAM precision bomb that was used by an F-18 they summoned to destroy the house where they found him. Now he's their mascot. When their tour ends in the next few weeks, they hope to take him home to San Diego. ''Since he had such a tough day,'' the lieutenant says, ''we figured this was his BUD/S (training), and that he had earned the right to be extracted.''
Link Posted: 2/7/2002 2:13:58 PM EDT
I wonder if the guys with the Ak-47 "war bootie" will be able to bring it home due to the assault weapons ban? Probably not...what a slap that would be... Anyone know policy on that? Just curious...
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